From the desert to the beach

by Staff

The path that guided Jason Richey to San Diego State was anything but a Sunday drive. Filled with numerous stops along the way, his ride had its share of dead ends and one-way streets.

The one street that wasn’t closed was the one that led Richey to the JUCO jamboree in Mesa, Ariz.

Arizona? Not exactly the first place that comes to mind when talking about the SDSU men’s basketball team. Yet, it was at this JUCO jamboree where Aztecs head coach Fred Trenkle laid the foundation for the 1996-97 SDSU squad.

Trenkle was a guest speaker at the tournament, and it was here where he got his first glimpse into the future.

“It was at the JUCO jamboree where Trenkle first saw me play,” Richey said. “He wasn’t recruiting me, though, because he said (SDSU) had a freshman point guard who was coming off a good year.”

With that in mind, Richey began looking into several other schools, such as Southwest Missouri State, the University of Texas-San Antonio and Colorado State. All of them had him at the top of their list. In fact, he was ready to sign with UTSA.

Then out of nowhere, Raymond “Circus” King announced he was transferring to the UC Berkeley. Suddenly there was a void in the Aztecs’ point guard position.

“When Raymond decided to leave, people thought we would be in trouble,” Trenkle said. “But I knew we would be all right when we signed Richey.”

But it almost didn’t come into reality, as Richey was just days away from signing somewhere else.

“I talked to the UTSA coach about their team and was all set to go and sign there, but then just one night later (SDSU assistant coach Steve Green) called me,” Richey said. “When he told me Trenkle wanted me, I told him I was going to go there because I really wanted to play for Trenkle. “From the first time I heard (Trenkle) talk, he was just upfront and told it to me straight.”

Being upfront and dealing with a person on an everyday basis was something Richey had been looking for since his first year at the University of Arizona. It was something he thought would be supplied by Arizona head coach Lute Olson.

During the 1993-94 season, his first with the Wildcats, it looked to be a perfect match. He garnered valuable playing time on a team that advanced to the Final Four.

It looked like a match made in heaven.

“Jason had a lot of quickness and could get up and down the court extremely fast,” Arizona assistant coach Jim Rosborough said. “We knew he had a lot of the tools necessary for this level.”

Then, just one year later, he was forced to redshirt by Olson, something which didn’t sit too well with Richey.

“At the time, I became really frustrated because I felt that I should be out on the court playing,” Richey said. “I felt I had deserved the opportunity to play and that I definitely had the capability to play.”

Nonetheless, the only Wildcats jersey he would don would be in practice.

However, he made valuable use of the time he did get during practice. It was there that he improved his game more than he ever could have imagined as he went up against one-time Arizona star and current Toronto Raptors point guard Damon Stoudamire.

“Jason was playing against an All-American for two and a half hours on a daily basis,” Rosborough said. “No question that helped him out tremendously.”

The daily battles those two waged are, to this day, something Richey gives a lot of credit to for improving his game.

“It helped me a lot with my offensive and defensive skills. But more than that, my mental game improved,” Richey said. “I gained confidence from playing against Damon that if I could hold my own against him, then I should be able to do it anywhere. To this day, I still try and do a lot of the things that I learned from Damon.”

After the 1994-95 season, Richey took the things he learned from Stoudamire and Arizona and bid a fond farewell to Lute Olson and his brief career in Tuscon. He decided to seek an extension to his collegiate career elsewhere.

“We had Damon Stoudamire, Reggie Geary and Khalid Reeves there, and there just wasn’t a lot of playing time left for him,” Rosborough said. “He sort of got lost in the shuffle.”

He entertained thoughts of transferring to a Division I school, but abandoned those when he learned he’d be forced to sit out the following season. And after not playing the previous year, sitting out once again was just not an option for him.

So off he went to seek his fortunes at Mesa Community College in Mesa, Ariz. From the start, it seemed like an ideal fit. He led the Thunderbirds to a fifth-place finish at the Junior College Championships and in the process earned second-team Junior College All-American honors.

Not bad for a guy who wasn’t good enough to play at Arizona.

Even after redshirting one year, then transferring to a junior college for one season, and undergoing numerous other hurdles, his biggest test was still to come.

Out of the Division I level for virtually two years, Richey would now be suiting up for his first game back at the level he felt he belonged in all along.

“Going into the year I couldn’t wait for our game against UC Irvine and to finally be back playing at the Division I level.”

Considering it was his first game back, one might have expected a case of the pregame jitters.

“I had been wondering all year what it would be like to finally play this game,” the point guard said. “The night before the Irvine game I had a lot of butterflies and it definitely felt like my first game. But when it finally happened, it felt real good. It felt like a long time coming.”

He was back back out on the court doing the thing he loves to do. His next step would be to help lead an SDSU basketball team known more for its losing than its winning.

It wasn’t exactly the storied tradition he was once a part of at UA.

Said Richey of SDSU’s losing ways, “I’d been hearing about the tradition they had of not having good teams here. I don’t know what they were, 2-25 or something.”

Now, after a start to a season which has exceeded every expectation placed upon it, it looks as if a winning tradition might be starting at SDSU.

A tradition that, undoubtably, began on the road to the JUCO jamboree.